Category: Articles


It was an extremely warm December morning.  The kayakers had been watching the weather.  No need to bundle up for this years Polar Bear paddle.  It would be in the 70’s by the time they returned.  Since they were pushing off at 6:00 a.m. dressing in layers was the key.  It is easier to take a few layers off as they go instead of putting it on.

The weather on past Polar Bear paddles had not been so cooperating.  One year the paddle lasted about 15 minutes.  Between rain, mixed with a little snow, wind out of the Northwest and waves that could easily swamp a boat it was not a good idea to try and find the sunrise.  Sunrise!?  It wasn’t going to happen anyway that day.  This group of guys was not accustomed to backing out of a kayaking challenge.

This year the temperature was not a problem.  There was zero rain in the forecast.  The water looked as calm as could be.  Not sure what anyone can see at 6 a.m. when the sunrise wasn’t scheduled until 7:20.  All indications were for a smooth paddle.

There was only one problem.  Even in the Lowcountry when the temperatures are abnormally warm and the water is a bit on the cold side there is a natural occurrence.  If anyone is smarter than a 5th grader or can look out their morning window they will know the nature of the problem.  Fog!  Thick fog!

Getting into the 14 foot kayak and pushing off into the fogged in waterway is not always the best idea.  A normal flashlight is of no value.  If they kept too close to the shore line they ran the risk of being beached by a boat’s wake.  If they went out into the middle there was no way to notify an oncoming boat of their presence.  The trick was to stay kind of close to the shore but not too close.  Paddling a bit blind it was a good idea to keep the eyes pealed and the ears tuned in to any noises of a boat motor.  If anyone were to go over they better have their personal flotation device (life vest for you old-timers) on and buckled.

Off they went into the dark and ominous fog.  Each of the adventurers had kayaked to Cockspur Lighthouse before.  Leaving the Lazaretto Creek Boat Ramp take a left and proceed down the creek and under the Route 80 bridge.  Right in front of you sits the lighthouse just off of Daymark Island and Fort Pulaski. On sunny clear days there is no problem.  On dark mornings with rolling thick fog it is a different story.

No problem, it was a lighthouse.  The website said the lighthouse was relit in 2007 for historical reasons.  The beacon will guide us right to it.  That’s what they all say.  This morning due to destruction caused by Hurricane Irma there was no light in the lighthouse.  There was no guiding beacon.

Fortunately the group had been there before.  It was there.  As the sun rose (never to be seen on this morning) visibility increased and the Cockspur Lighthouse was shrouded in fog for some outstanding photographs.  One large boat did pass.  It was never seen.  Only heard and felt as the waves pushed the kayaks near the large bolder sea wall.  Nobody got hurt.  Nobody was turned over and everyone was safe and sound.  A few pictures and a few dolphins and the morning was quite a success.  Once back at the landing it was time for breakfast at the Breakfast Club on Tybee Island.

In many ways the short 4.1 trip was a normal foggy kayak run with no real safety concerns.  While the novice may not want to venture alone in the dark fog it was a blast for the seasoned paddlers.

As I paddled out of Lazaretto Creek enjoying the fog effect and the exercise I was amazed at the lack of light.  There was no light whatsoever to keep anyone off the rocky seawall.  We didn’t even see the Tybee Lighthouse light which as only a few miles at best to the south.  Maybe we are reliant on GPS systems and such now a days.  However, the absence of light always makes one wonder.  Darkness is the absence of light. Darkness is actually the natural state with light invading it’s domain.  Add fog and you got darkness you can feel.

As I prayed for safety entering the boat channel to the darkened lighthouse I thought of life as a Christian.  Christians are to be the light that shines in the darkness of our world.  Jesus said we are the light of the world.  He didn’t say he was.  He said we were.  We are to be the light to the praise of the Father.

The light was not to be hidden.  Indications are the true light of God living in a person cannot be hidden as a city cannot be hidden.  Jesus said we don’t light a candle to hide it under a bowl.  The candle is lit to guide us and others.  He commands his followers, “let your light shine before men.”  Why?  So that not only can they hear of the grace and love of Jesus; they can see it!

Our world seems to be getting darker.  I’m not sure it is any darker then before.  Possibly it is the lack of light emitting from those who claim belief in the son of God.  Remember, darkness is the natural state.  It is the absence of light.  As we enter 2018 instead of complaining and worrying about the darkness (it’s always there) our purpose is to be the light.  Once there is light others can find their way.  No need to worry.  Keep paddling.

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My heart dropped.  I was shocked at the words coming out of the young ladies mouth.  Just when I think I have heard everything God reminds me that sin is deeper then I ever thought and His grace is a lot larger then I can imagine.  I have known the young lady since she was knee high to a grass hopper.  She was raised in the church.  Something went way wrong.  Her view of Jesus and the Bible was highly skewed.  I’m finding out that this is not an uncommon, isolated incident.  For our own kids, something got lost in translation.

I get asked my opinion about the failure of the gospel to translate to the next generation on a regular basis.  There is no one reason.  It’s a complicated issue.  We want a simple answer.  We want to blame everything under the sun.  That’s one of the odd things about Christianity.  We tend to waste too much time trying to affix blame.  By the time we figure something out, it is no longer an issue.  Then we spend more time trying to fix blame on the most recent trend only to waste more time.

It is all a distraction.  If we can find someone or something else to blame we don’t have to look inward.  The only problem we have is us.  The Bible is not written for the world.  It’s written for those who are the children of God.  Only with the Holy Spirit can one understand it is alive and sharper then a two edged sword.  So, if believers are the only ones that understand then it is believers that it is written for.  Instead of trying to find reasons we are losing our own is our issue and not the culture, world, technology, friends and the internet’s fault.

Working with people the church tends to miss I have found that honesty is the foundation of change.  We want Jesus to bring change.  The only problem is we want change for everybody except for ourselves.  Honesty goes out the window.  That includes honesty before God and honesty before what are our brothers and sisters.  I can prove the point real easy.  At the next Bible study ask for prayer requests.  One will hear requests for sick people, job issues, and a few relationship issues as long as the other person is not present.  One will not hear heart issues, personal temptation issues, fears and idols of the heart.

Guess who knows those issues as we play games?  Our children.  Add in the mix our generation (I’m a baby boomer) has fallen from grace in many areas (divorce, consumerism, greed, and more) with a lack of honesty. We have a recipe that leaves the next generation with a skewed view of the Lord Jesus.

That in itself is the skewed version.  We bought  Jesus for hell insurance and then taught a form of legalism that would make a Pharisee blush.  We also sold Jesus like he was a guaranteed insurance policy to keep the flames of hell away.  Jesus as Lord and King is a different story. Jesus gets us into heaven but how he is present in our daily lives is a different story.

We taught that Jesus was in our lives by something called a morning devotional, a time of prayer, church attendance and youth group.  We packaged Jesus into a nice comfortable box.  Meanwhile my generation struggled with spendable income (thought it was God’s not ours), loving others of a different color, consumerism, social justice, and plenty of other issues that we refused any sense of honesty.

We finally hit generations that do not accept the Baby Boomer expression of the Christian faith.  In our generation the family unit collapsed.  It did not collapse with the Millenials.  It as already on life support in our time.  As the family unit collapsed in our culture it collapsed in our churches.  With it went any viable interpretation of love including the love of God who gave his son in our place.  We invited our kids to Jesus but never defined His Kingdom.  It isn’t coming as I was taught.  It’s already here.  Jesus rose form the dead and sent his Holy Spirit to provide his presence 24/7.  Meanwhile we kept him boxed in a nice convenient form.

As we enter the final week of October we celebrate 500 years of the Reformation.  Martin Luther got things going by posting 95 thesis on a church door calling those who are called Christians back to Biblical truth and Jesus, the Lord.  His first thesis was powerful.  Luther called believers to live a life of constant, daily repentance.  For that to happen we have to be honest.  Honest of who we are and where we are wrong.  Honest with our failures and sin.  Once we are honest before God then we are to be honest with our children regardless of their age.  We follow Jesus’ instruction and ask for their forgiveness.

In the 1500’s the church needed reforming.  We need it in 2017.  Reformation begins with us.  Our hope is in the Lord.  It cost Martin Luther a lot.  I hope we are ready to pay the price.  By the way…the young lady in my office this week.  Her interpretation of Jesus is based on what she saw from her father in relation to the Scripture.  It didn’t match.  It’s time for the evangelical church to reform.

Last week we looked at Luke 15. Jesus gives three stories focusing on lost people, a rescuer and a party. The redemption concepts presented by Luke tug at the heart. It makes one thankful for the grace Jesus provides.
While these redemption stories are good for the heart, one wonders if there is any application. Maybe the Bible is a great redemptive story but doesn’t really play out in everyday life. Application is as important as theological understanding. Actually it is my opinion that theology without application is knowledge. Jesus isn’t worried about how much we know. He is concerned about how we live.
The more I think about Luke 15 I see more than meets the eye. We like to talk about being like Jesus. Remember the days of “WWJD.” While we probably don’t really know what Jesus would do since he is often very unpredictable during his 3 years of ministry the idea is to be like Jesus. Be forgiving. Be a healer. Bring peace. Help the poor. Obey the 10 commandments. Be nice. You get the idea.
All those Jesus likeisms (I love making up words) are real. But, do they actually reveal Christ. I think they could reveal all sorts of good people. Jesus is so much more than a good person. The key element is grace. A friend recently said “All we really have to offer is grace.”
As Jesus speaks in Luke 15 imagine you are the listener. He is talking about being lost. First of all grace allows people to get lost. There is an understanding that we aren’t going to get it right. There is a hymn that reads “prone to wander, Lord I know it. Prone to leave the God I love.” Let’s put that in context of Luke 15. Prone to get lost, wander and rebel. Prone to hide, forget and choose my own way instead of the God I say I love. That is man. That is us.
Grace calls for action. There is someone that after they recognize that someone is lost they go find them. A widow finds the coin. A shepherd goes to bring back the lamb. The Father looks for the day he can welcome home his son. Grace has someone looking out for us. Sure Jesus does. But, to be like Christ is to be a rescuer. What? Are you serious? Yes, I am.
Grace in the pattern of Jesus is to lay our lives down for the sake of another. The widow didn’t relish her 9 coins. She worked hard to clean the house to find the one. The shepherd didn’t write the lost lamb off as being ADD or inattentive or without discipline. No, he took the journey to find his lamb. There is an amazing fact about the Prodigal Father in Luke 15. He let his son go. He rested in his love being more persuasive than the love of the world. Think about such love and grace. He let his son go without argument since he knew love and grace wins the day.
Can we say that? Do we live that way? We like to think this is a world of second chances. It isn’t. Reputations, judgments, one really bad day haunt us for life. Labels are hung around our neck even by those who call us “friend..”
The party at the end of each story reveals the pleasure and joy redemption provides for Jesus. Do we have that kind of joy when redemption wins the day? I meet to many sour believers. We forgot how to party. At the very end of Luke 15 there is a young man who forgot how to party. He probably has his eyes on money and things of this world instead of the soul of his brother.
Things of the world have the habit of taking the party out of us. It is a sign grace and love have been the forgotten active likeness of Jesus. When your wife is having a really bad day do you consider her lost? When your husband comes home like a bear do you see him as a man with his head down trying to survive another day (lamb)? When your kids are in trouble and the policeman at the door has your blood pressure up do you consider him as a prodigal or as a problem? Jesus revealed that his way…the likeness of Christ indeed was that love and grace were to win the day. There is shame on those who reject such grace. There is a greater shame on those who don’t live it.

A brilliant idea for an article came flashing through the mind. It didn’t last long. Everybody has to settle for second best. Better start typing before this article becomes third best. It is sort of like those brief glimpses of glory we receive from time to time. We get little tastes of Jesus and how it is to be. Before we know it that little glimpse disappears.
I read a book last week that will be placed in my “top 10” pile n my desk. It is actually a “top 16” stack. It is Tim Keller’s Encounters with Jesus. If you want to tickle the brain and be amazed once again with Jesus take the opportunity to read it. I keep mentioning this one. It is a keeper.
Keller takes ten encounters that 10 different people have with Jesus and explodes them. He did a fantastic job. It got me thinking about my top 10 Jesus moments (mine are not 10 personal encounters) in the gospels. There is the forgiveness of the woman caught in adultery. A place in heaven reserved for the thief on the cross. The rescue of Peter after he begins to drown while walking on water inspires. These are all great interactions with Jesus.
My personal favorite that tops the list is in the gospel of Luke, chapter 15. For those well versed with Scripture it is known as the Prodigal Son chapter. While true, it is so much more. Jesus uses parables to define people in need, a rescuer and a party. I have to admit, it’s the three parties that attract me.
In his chapter Jesus defines humans as those who are like a lost coin, a lost sheep and a rebellious son. I think I have been all three at some time in my life. Coins get lost like car keys. The table gets bumped. Maybe there is a hole in the pocket. There is no blame to go around. Life gets us and we become lost.
Other times I have been like a lost sheep. Lambs lose their way by with their heads down eating the next blade of grass and the next blade of grass and so on. Eventually they lift their heads and don’t have any clue where they are and where they are going. My favorite saying fits this with no problem. I’ve been there and done that. Life has a way of eating us up.
There are also those moments in life that are probably a little more often than we like to admit. It is those times we are rebellious children. We demand our own way. We get it. We might enjoy our way for a season. Only problem…seasons change. We end up worse off than when we started. Sin and rebellion does not breed success, at least not the kind of success that brings peace, grace and a lot of love. It usually creates more problems.
In each of these life experiences the coin, the lamb and the son end up lost. They aren’t in the place where they belong. The coin has no value as it lays hidden. The lamb is in great danger away from the herd. The son is away from his family wandering lost in an unforgiving world.
Well, the beauty of the three stories is that regardless of how you got there we are found. We are redeemed by one (Jesus) who finds the coin, goes after the lamb and welcomes the son back without question. Why? We are his children. Now we get to my favorite part. There are no lectures about being wrong. There is no switch to bring into submission the lost lamb. There is no sense of a beat down. No, instead there is a party. The coin has its value restored. The lamb is safe. The son is with his father. All is well. Let’s party. Now you’re talking.

Recently I heard a sermon in which the word “hypocrite” was used. It was used to describe people who confessed Christ but had a propensity not so much toward blatant sin but rather towards refusing to have a life-style that demonstrates Christ. These types of behaviors would include such things as unforgiveness, greed, lack of compassion, failure to extend grace, self-focus and lost love.   Many of these Christ like traits are not written in a “10 Commandment” like manner. They are more like the traits Jesus expressed in the Sermon on the Mount where he described a relationship with God as being one that is blessed. Those who are blessed are “poor in spirit, mourn, meek, hunger and thirst for what is right, merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted.” No one can measure these Christ like attributes but you know it when you see it.

“Hypocrite” is a very strong word. Most Christians confess to being a hypocrite without understanding the word. Jesus infuriated the Pharisees and the self-righteous by using the “H” word on a regular basis. In the four gospels Jesus refers to it some 20 times. Each time he was engaging the self-righteous. Boy, would they howl!

I see nowhere in the gospels anyone settling for such an accusation or label. When the “H” word was used people were highly offended and mad as hell. Why? The actual definition according to Mr. Webster reads: a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess; especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs.

Did you catch the truth? It is someone who “does not actually posses…stated beliefs.” Let me rephrase it for you. When Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites he was telling them they were not God-seekers or God-righteous at all.

When the “H” word is used today we don’t even blink. We accept it. There is something wrong with our Biblical perception. When a pastor talks about the lack of Christ like character and uses such harsh terminology it means the same for us as it did the Pharisees. Let me rephrase it in a way that we might understand. If we say we are Christians but do not have Christ like characteristics we are not God-seekers and God-righteous. How about this one…if we say we believe in Christ but do not posses Christ like attributes, we are not Christians. Does that one make the blood run like the Pharisees? It should! But it doesn’t.

Our hope is in Christ not our ability to appease God. When Christ invades the heart it is a supernatural cosmic event. Jesus even said, “A house divided cannot stand.” He went on to say “you cannot love God and things of this earth.” “You either love the one and hate the other.” So much for the easy, kind Jesus that makes me think I can be a hypocrite without ire.  

When the “H” word is used it should poke us deep in our hearts. When God’s grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ penetrates our hearts and lives the very word should drive us to self-inspection and humility before the one who gave his life and asks us to do the same…”lay your life down for the sake of many.”

This might be a bit crass but sometimes you got to say it the way it is…hey hypocrites can we start by getting pissed off that we are living lives that would even have the pastor call us the “H” word? Being a hypocrite means we have a divided house. It means we are not laying our lives down for Christ and for others. Jesus said in order to “save our lives we had to lose our lives.”

If we are indeed hypocrites we have a greater issue of severe importance. Remember…it means we aren’t what we think we are. Only one thing to do with that…get on our knees at the cross.

By the way…thank you pastor for calling me the “H” word. I needed to get to the cross. More pastors need to be willing to call it like Jesus did.  

 

From time to time and probably more than I like to admit I am humbled and left in awe by fellow Christians. The Ebola epidemic has humbled me. Missionaries are on the front lines once again. They along with other medical personnel are putting their lives on the line. Meanwhile I worry about catching a common cold from a coughing congregant. They humble me. I stand in awe.
We need to lift up these modern day champions of the faith in prayer. They remind me of selfless stories through the ages. Christians responding to social ills instead of running away have been the norm through the ages. They sacrificed. They put their lives on the line. They lived their faith.
Running to the front of the line is not for everybody. Even the military has special troops designed to answer emergencies and hold the line till support arrives. It is clear the Scriptures teach that there are different gifts for us.
However, there is a way of life that we as Christians are called. I was reminded of it this past week while riding a horse with a name…Cinnamon.
My family was on vacation in the mountains this past week. We decided to go horseback riding. Don’t laugh. Yes, I got up on a horse. Getting up wasn’t the bad part…getting down was.
We drove up a dirt road expecting to come across a healthy farm with white fences and big barns. Instead we came across a beaten trailer with a spot-a-pot out front. The horses looked very healthy. The more we looked around the more amazed we became at the living conditions or the owner and his family. I will admit, I almost told the family to get back in the van.
Out came the owner and his daughter to lead our trip. He was one of the nicest and gentlest guys I have ever met. From what we could gather from the various conversations humbled me the second time in one week. I of all people should know that we are not to “judge a book by its cover.”
He had 35 horses six years ago. The downturned economy that still exists in the Appalachians has caused him to sell all but 11. It is clear he takes very good care of his horses. His family is struggling. His wife has been very sick. She recently came home from the hospital. He is doing what he can do to hold things together hoping that soon…the vacationers return.
Not only did he lead our trip up the mountain and back down he personally hitched my 5-year-old granddaughters horse to his and made sure she had a glorious first horseback ride. I couldn’t have asked for a nicer and more considerate guy to take care of her. Oh, he looked rough…real rough. Like Samuel said when looking for the man to take King Saul’s place…”man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart.”
So…what is the call? How do we minister to this hard working struggling man? It really isn’t that hard. My wife and I didn’t have a chance to talk about it, but we were thinking the same thing…a really big tip. He only charged us $25 a person. A normal tip would be $2.50 to $5 a person. Forget standard thinking. The man was in need. I’m not going to boast about what we did. What would you do?
Every day we meet people in need. I’m not asking everyone to run to tragedies or medical disasters. I do believe Jesus taught us that when a brother asks for a loaf of bread to not give him a stone. He also said that when a brother asks for a coat, to give him two of them. The gospel expression comes in many forms. Yes, there is a vocal form that is needed. However, it is better received when gospel living backs it.
Take a look around this week. We don’t have to go to the mountains to find a need. We don’t have to go on vacation to find a gospel expression. As more and more people don’t trust the organized church we will have to take the gospel to them. It might start with a decent tip.
By the way…if you can’t find a person in need…check out a lot of single mom waitresses in our restaurants. I know they could use a helping hand. Maybe if we follow the lead of missionaries answering the Ebola crisis our world will once again be receptive to the good news of Jesus who gave more than we could ever ask…his life for ours.

Today (the day I actually wrote this article) is my birthday. I won’t say how old I am but you can figure it out by one statement. I am now old enough to move into Sun City.
I waited for the UPS truck to come loaded with gifts from around the world. After I woke up from a nap and realized it was a dream, I decided to sit down and do a little reflecting. I think I am a bit reflective due to my state of mind. This is the first birthday I can honestly say “its just another day.” Maybe I have finally gained wisdom. Maybe I have matured. Maybe I have come to realize there are a lot bigger things in life than a birthday.
My daughter sent me a text video of my grandkids singing “Happy Birthday.” That’s all I needed. Is that what grandkids do to a person? If so, is there anyway we can skip having kids and just have grandkids? I’m only kidding. I love my son and daughter as well as my son and daughter in-law. I’m a lucky man. This Christian did say he was lucky. Get over it!
I thought I would take a few minutes and let you know what has my thoughts today. I’m sorry if it’s boring. I don’t need any more gifts. I got enough stuff. I value the people in my life. My birthday musings center on them, not me.
The first I figured out is there is a great value in modern technology. You have heard me rant about its misuse. I learn once again objects are not the issue…man is. How we use these objects is what makes them good or evil. I found out the good side. For some reason I am attuned to the birthday wishes on Facebook today. It has meant a lot to me the different people and friends who took a moment out of their life to wish me well. It sure beats putting a card in the mail. My friends…you reminded me that I am not alone. Thank you.
In my role as a pastor I do mostly personal ministry. The people at Grace Coastal are spared weekly preaching from me. My role is handling the tough places and things we get into as human beings. Yes, let’s get this right, Christians get in tough places as well as unbelievers.
I am involved with several marriages that are really struggling. I am again a very blessed man. My wife is an angel. No, she is a saint. I cannot imagine life without her. A birthday wish I have for the struggling marriages I am privileged to help seek healing is that they find the love that my wife and I have. The ones that are hurting say they love each other but truthfully, love isn’t words. Love is action. Love isn’t sex. Love is intimacy. Love doesn’t take. Love gives.
There is only one-way to make a marriage last. No, it is not learning to say, “yes darling.” The only way for a marriage to work is to do what Jesus did. He laid his life down for another. That means as one our thoughts and desires are wrapped up in my spouse, not me. When two people are doing that together, it works real well. I would give anything for the marriages that are struggling to discover the love of Jesus that took him to the cross.
Birthdays…let’s face it…they are pretty selfish. I think I’ll do my birthday different next year. I’m going to have an old fashioned Maryland Steamed Crab Feast. My friends are invited. The only thing they can bring…themselves. See in the Mid-Atlantic we don’t have a steamed crab feast for the food…it’s about the event. Happy Birthday…enjoy it with me.

Sometimes there is a concept that is hard to write about. Maybe my thoughts are still too jumbled. Maybe trying to explain something in fewer than 500 words is impossible. If you read this column and sip the coffee and say, “What in the world is he talking about?” don’t worry…sometimes I say the same thing and I write it. I have the felling it will happen today.
A friend and I were having a long discussion about some issues in his life. Eventually I spewed “I think our Christianity gets in the way from time to time.” He looked at me like I had morphed into a fire-breathing zombie. I asked him to forgive me if I offended him. He insisted he was not offended.
What would make me say such a thing?
Christianity with it’s own vocabulary and concepts is very broad. I can say “grace” to one person and it is interpreted like the Corinthians “everything is permissible.” I can say “sanctification” and some will say it comes through Christ while others will say it is what we work at since our justification is by grace. Have I lost you yet?
That is my point.
Christianity has become or maybe it always has been very broad. If I were asked, “What is a Christian?” before the age of 39 my answer after belief in Jesus would have then been full of non-Biblical Christian expectations that basically focused on our morality. That answer was the time in my Christian life when I was not involved in personal ministry and my personal beliefs were formed outside the context of a real understanding of sin and grace. Once personal relationships begin (I believe the only context of Biblical ministry) my “be moral” Christianity quickly changed. Yet, I seldom ministered outside the context of the church.
In each and every one of us there is a twinge of belief that Jesus makes me a morally respectable person. There is also a twinge of belief that in the depth of my secret life I know I am not a moral person…so I keep the deep dark stuff secret. Neither one of these popular “Christian” thoughts is true. However, this becomes our functional faith. Am I making any sense yet?
So? How does this get in our way? Oh, I hope I make some sense here.
The truth…we are depraved. Even Christians, yes those things Paul calls “new creatures” are depraved. I guess that is why I like the two very popular shows “Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead.” One of their premises is that under certain conditions (extreme stress, life/death, and our own sense of success) we will not be moral. In fact, we all will do very bad things. Open the Bible…it’s clear.
The 2nd truth is that grace indeed is our only hope. There is a little catch that gives us trouble. In order for grace to abound, truth has to be a very high priority. Without truth grace will not and cannot function.
For our faith to be “of Christ” and as some proclaim “sola Christos (Christ alone)” than there is nothing we can claim…not even a sense of morality. However, what is often talked about is how we can be moral instead of how we respond to the greatest love and grace anyone will every find.
For us as Christians our faith truly is either focused on man or on Jesus. In order to grow in the love and grace of God we got to get out of the way or what we have turned “sola Christos” into has to go. Either way…sometimes “Christianity” can get in the way of God’s grace and our call to practice it. Are you confused? Be honest.

Recently I posted a picture of my wife and I from our high school days. We are high school sweethearts. After everyone got off the floor looking at the horrid 70’s clothing styles we were able to enjoy (some of us) the memories. One person mentioned, “My, you guys look the same.” Either they were being nice or they were blind. We are nowhere near the same.
It is the slow changes that make us think we are the same when in fact we aren’t. At any given time it is very hard for the human brain to fathom change and aging. It is true that if we look in a mirror today and never look in a mirror for 20 years we cannot comprehend what we look like. We always remember someone based on the last time we saw him or her.
Sometimes I think that is the same problem with the church. We really have changed. We just don’t want to look at it.
The church in America is at a major crossroads. It might not seem like it in the South with churches in every corner. The Bible belt seems to hold onto a sense of God, Country and Family. However, the experts as well as culturally attuned pastors realize the demise of the church and Christianity, as we know it.
Our church as well as others is looking at the issue. On one hand some things need to die. That is for another day. In the last few days as I prepared to preach about it today (the boss is on vacation), I find the same problem in the Scriptures. It is about the church of Ephesus.
They started so good. They were life changers. Great things were happening in and through the church. There is evidence the Christians in Ephesus rescued babies from a “baby dump” where unwanted babies were left to die often immediately after birth. The sanctity of life has been an issue through the ages. The Ephesian Christians would legally adopt them. Wow! That is a church in action.
Jesus confirms their good deeds but has a problem with the Ephesian church in Revelation 2. He says they “left their first love.” They needed to repent.
At first sight it doesn’t make sense. They were doing good things and it actually says they were commended for their stand against false theology. So what could have been the problem?
I do a lot of marriage counseling. Actually, too much if you ask me. Associated with every one is a sense of “lost love.” How does this happen? The list is endless…failed expectations, deceptive loves seeking to steal the first love, and living in a depraved world where priorities and love gets away from us.
It is no different with the church. Jesus says to return to the first love. I have spent too much time over the years trying to figure our gimmicks, sales tricks and consumer means to get people to return to their first love.
We are trying so hard we are missing a very simple yet hard reality of the Christian faith. It is the fact that this isn’t heaven. Life in Christ is hard. It is a constant battle between the glory of God and an easy way out. We teach easy fix it’s. We seek the lowest common denominator ignoring the pain we cause and the pain that flows through our world. Church on Sunday doesn’t want to say the bad news. In doing so it dilutes the good news.
The bad news…our depraved nature is constantly seeking to place the emphasis on “me.” I want Jesus and life my way. It better be easy. If my functional Jesus doesn’t please me than I will seek it on my own. I will then try to attach Jesus to it. In doing so, we leave our first love. The first issue we must face before we address the pain in this world is the pain and suffering I cause.
The good news…there is an answer. Return to our first love. Grasp how far we have fallen! Look at it! Grasp how great the love of God is to us through the sacrifice of Jesus for us. Return to the one who loves ferociously. He always welcomes the wayward one back to the family.
No more gimmicks. No sales job. No attempt to build an empire. No easy steps. We are wayward travelers seeking Shalom. Sometimes it’s hard to find. Church…I don’t need entertainment. I need a fellow traveler who can help me return to the one who loves…Jesus.
Scan 5

My good friends know I love the television series “The Walking Dead.” It is not for the faint of heart. It is not for the immature or young. There is no question there is violence, mature themes and zombies. From time to time there are lots of zombies. They aren’t the fake looking kind. They can make your skin crawl.
I do not recommend that everybody run to Netflix in order to begin watching from the first episode (it’s the only way to understand it at this point). Nor do I expect anyone to jump in with season five and get it.
If you happen to venture into this world you will discover something that makes this the number one viewed show among 18 to 35 year olds. It is not about zombies. It really isn’t. Zombies are the vehicles to look at human nature when your world collapses. It is a show about human nature. That is what makes the series so popular.
I was watching the July 4th marathon (sorry, no war movies this time) and happen to come across a very profound scene. There is this guy, Merle. Well, there was a guy, Merle. You get the idea. Merle was a picture of people who react. They aren’t dumb. They react to the moment. Sometimes you like the guy. Most times you can’t stand the guy. One thing for sure, Merle will live for Merle. Good or bad…Merle makes decisions for himself. Merle would not be found in the church pew on Sunday.
There is another character, Hershel. Hershel is an alcoholic (mostly recovering) who seeks to do the right thing by immersing himself in the Bible. He isn’t a Jesus Freak. He tries to live out the principles set forth by Christ in a way that seeks to make the right decision, love others (sometimes even zombies), and love others especially his family. He is the kind of guy we would love to have in our churches. If he were leading a Bible study we would be blessed. Forgiveness and redemption dominate Hershel’s philosophy of life even in the midst of major crisis.
Hershel is talking with Merle in this scene. He asks him a very profound question. Hershel asks, “Do you even know why you do the things you do, the choices you make?” Merle answer is so dead on. He replies, “I don’t know the reasons for the things that I do. Never did. I’m a damn mystery to myself.”
I ask this question in many forms to many people. I’ve seen so much pain and misery as a counseling pastor. Most people respond like Merle. Is it that our culture doesn’t allow us to look or maybe we don’t want to know.
Churches move more and more away from having people face the truth that is evident in this television series. The funny thing is the more we move away from the truth that we are a mess and much more sinful than we like to admit the further we move away from the profound truth of Jesus being the answer to our condition. Somehow, we think that the issues of Merle are non-believers. Well, my counseling is mainly with Christians. Somehow, we don’t want to realize that being a new creature doesn’t mean any of us are sin free. To live that way and fellowship that way defies the Scripture.
The truth is we need to face our need every day. Doing so we face the truth that we need the gospel every day not just the day of our salvation. We don’t want to. Yet, it is the very truth that makes the apostle Paul’s instruction so profound when he writes “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling.” Every day. Every day. Don’t wait for Sunday. I’m not sure it’s happening there.